Calls to tweak Scotland’s Beef Efficiency Scheme

The National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) Scottish branch has suggested eight simple recommendations on how the Scottish government can make its Beef Efficiency Scheme (BES) more effective for the country’s cattle producers.

According to the union, around half of Scotland’s eligible cattle have been enrolled into the scheme in the first year, which the NFU believes is a good start in driving forward the performance of the Scottish beef herd.

However, the organisation wants to see the role that BES plays altered to subsequently allow Scotland to establish itself as an elite beef producing country.

To achieve this, the union has suggested eight simple changes that should be made to the scheme in its second year:

•    Adjust to allow for a payment on animals in expanding herds and new herds
•    Extend the payment from three years to five years
•    Allow tissue testing to be on farm by the end of August
•    Clear and proportionate penalties
•    Clearer clarity on carbon audit
•    Further application round in 2017
•    Greater encouragement to smaller herds
•    Maximise information on the BES database to drive improvements in the national herd

“Given the huge importance of our beef sector to Scotland, BES is off to an encouraging start,” said NFU Scotland president Allan Bowie in a letter to the country’s cabinet secretary for the rural economy, Fergus Ewing.

“Further fine tuning would increase its reach and its relevance as we seek to drive our beef industry forward.

“The future of the beef sector lies with expanding and new herds, and that merits recognition within BES. Similarly, farmers are required to give a five-year commitment to BES but, as things stand, are only being paid for the first three years of the scheme. To encourage as great a take up as possible, a payment should be made for each of the five years of the scheme.”

He added that to assist with the smooth running of BES – particularly in more extensive areas where calves are traditionally sold in the autumn – the delivery of tissue tags for genomic testing should be available in August to benefit the normal farming year.

“On communications, there is a need to better explain any penalties that may be incurred if farmers accidentally breach BES rules and clearer messages on the carbon audit element are also needed so that farmers are aware of the annual input/output data needed by BES.

“Importantly, we need to look at encouraging a further uplift in membership. Critical mass is vital if we are to maintain the vibrancy and resilience of our beef industry and that merits a further application round in 2017.”

Bowie explained that although half of the nation’s herd are part of the scheme, this is not reflective of the beef farmers. “Smaller beef herds play a vital role in vulnerable or more extensive areas but they perceive the obligations of the scheme to be greater than the financial reward being offered. It is important that the Scottish government looks at how smaller keepers could be attracted into the scheme and the advantages that the scheme has to offer their cattle production clearly communicated.

“Longer term, there is opportunity to ensure the scheme drives our Scotch brand and improves meat quality. In order to achieve this, the BES database must incorporate the information held by Food Standards Scotland and Scottish abattoirs in order to allow us the ability to explore how we get more cattle achieving higher eating quality, fewer health issues and better meat yield.”

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